Asking the Right Questions then Discovering the Best Answers!
I was recently asked to provide 3-5 “Things You Should Know” on the topic of “Leadership: Vision, Mission, Values & Strategic Planning” for our industry’s trade magazine. Below is what I provided. Let me know if you have something to add.
Leadership and strategic thinking isn’t about having all the answers, it’s, at the core, asking the right questions and then leading a team or organization to discover the best answers. And these answers are critical because it’s around them that a leader builds unity, community, focus and ultimately success.
The following six groups of questions are the most foundational and strategic questions a leader can ask and then help their team or organization answer:
- Why do we exist? What purpose do we fulfill, what difference do we make in the world? If we ceased to exist, what hole would be left? The answer to these questions is typically expressed in a purpose or mission statement.
- What’s most important to us? What are we most deeply passionate about and willing to sacrifice and suffer for? The answer to these questions is stated as an organization’s core values.
- What do we believe to be true? What is it about the world we’re most sure of? What’s true even though we may not like it? The answer to these questions is typically written in a statement of faith or a confession.
- What do we want to become? When we look into the future who and what kind of team or organization do we want to be? What are the kinds of things we’d want others to say about us? Answering these questions will lead to creating a shared vision of your future.
- What do we want to accomplish? 5, 10, 20 years from now, when we look back, how will we know we’ve been successful? What will be the key indicator that we faithfully fulfilled our mission and vision? A Big Hairy Audacious God Goal (BHAGG) answers these questions.
- What makes us distinct? What are the defining characteristics that make us stand out from other similar organizations? How do those outside our organization or team describe the work we do or service we provide? When you answer these questions you’ve articulated your brand promise (in organizations with a Christian mission – it’s often called a philosophy of ministry).
So a leader’s first task is to ask these foundational questions then second, lead their teams to discovering the answers. When these first two tasks are accomplished the leader’s job isn’t finished. The final, unending task of the leader is to teach, remind, highlight, reinforce, and be the biggest communicator and cheerleader of these answers to every stakeholder of the organization. This is the primary task of the leader and one that needs to happen every day, all the time; it’s what makes a leader a leader, and one that makes organizations great.
There and Back Again – A Fisherman’s Tale
Every fall I make two trips to northern Ontario, Canada fishing with two different groups of friends. We stay at one of the great places in the world – Camp Anjigami. By making Camp Anjigami our home base we’re able to fish many lakes for different species of fish (Walleye, Northern Pike, and Brook Trout).
Each species provides its own challenges and thrills. But my favorite species, by far, is the Brook Trout, or as the Canadians call them “Speckled Trout”. They’re beautiful (and elusive) fish that put up a big fight. The only issue with catching these little darlings (at least for some of my buddies) is that the best Speckled Trout lake is also the most challenging one to get to. The trip requires us to boat over four separate lakes (including 2 sets of rapids) and make 5 portages, all of which takes about 3 hours, one way.
There is no short cut (unless you charter a floatplane) to this lake. So if you want the chance to catch Speckled Trout, you boat and hike. Now for me I love to catch these fish, but truthfully I may even love the journey there and back more than the fishing.
Now why would I love the journey more than the fishing?
First, because it’s an adventure. Every time I make the trip something unexpected happens.
Second, the lakes and walks are absolutely rugged and beautiful.
Third, it’s a quest. I have a sense of accomplishment in getting there and back, and it doubles if we catch fish.
But primarily the journey reminds me of the most important work and activities in my life such as raising kids, building a lasting marriage, achieving career goals or becoming the man God’s created me to be. I’m reminded that these endeavors are also journeys. And like my Speckled Trout journey, if seen in the right perspective, all have a sense of adventure, beauty, and a quest for something big, meaningful, and lasting which makes the journey itself as joyful as the destination.43.928283-85.286682
Lessons from Falling Short of a Goal
Late last fall I had a physical and found out that my LDL cholesterol was 175, 75 points higher than the top of the acceptable range.
As a result my Doctor recommended I take a LDL lowering drug. Instead I told him I wanted time to see if getting my health back in order would do the trick. So he gave me 6 months to see if I could move the LDL needle down.
So I set a stretch goal of lowering my LDL to 95 before my return visit. Then I created a plan which gave me the best chance to drop my LDL 80 points. Now 6 months later, having executed my plan to the best of my ability, I went back to the Doctor to learn if I achieved my goal.
And, as with many goals, I received both good news and bad news. The good news is I lowered my LDL by 53 points and the Doctor isn’t prescribing any medication. But the bad news is I’m still 27 points from my goal.
So I’m both satisfied and disappointed. Satisfied that my highest goal – taking no drugs has been temporarily avoided, disappointed because I didn’t reach my goal, all of which provides some important lessons about setting and missing goals:
- Because we tend to perform up to but not beyond our goals, setting a stretch goal puts us farther down the road than we’d have gone had our goals been more conservative even if we fall short of our goal.
- It’s easy to be unrealistic in setting short –term goals (and to easy to be conservative in setting long-term ones).
- Even when we fall short of our goals there’s always residual benefits from good performance (lower weight, better sleeping, etc.).
- Just because we don’t achieve our goals by the date set it doesn’t mean they’re unachievable, it just means, if we stay resilient, it’s only a matter of time before we cross the finish line.
Sometimes you do it Because It’s Just Plain Fun
Sunday evening of Memorial Day I had a blast. I joined 5 other SpringHill leaders plus other staff and volunteers and we grilled steak and chicken for nearly 1000 campers at our Michigan Memorial Day Family Camp. It was a riot being with these folks, exhilarating serving and interacting with our guests, cool working on a big and awesome grill, and it was just plain fun doing something outside my regular work.
These few hours reminded me of something I’ve said to our staff over the years and, unfortunately, have recently forgotten myself – “we work for SpringHill, we’re supposed to have fun, and if we’re not something’s not right”.
Yet when our vision is to accomplish something personally and organizationally significant for people and Christ’s Kingdom, it almost always requires discipline, focus and lots of resources. And all of these things can squeeze out the space in our work to do something just for fun. Yet it’s in having a blast that really good and unexpected things can happen, most of which, somehow and some way, moves us forward in fulfilling our vision and goals.
Such surprises include the opportunity to build into key relationships, hearing first hand from our customers and guests, learning something new, or gaining a new perspective about our work, organization or life. Often one of the best things is we gain a new appreciation for our job and the people we get to do it with.
And frankly, it’s this last surprise that caused me, as I walked home Sunday evening, to give thanks for the privilege I have to do what I do and for the opportunity to do it with people I love.43.928283-85.286682
Whenever one of the members of the SpringHill leadership team’s distracted from the task at hand the rest of the team will say “squirrel”. It’s a reference to the Disney/Pixar movie “Up” where a dog named Dug becomes distracted from what he’s doing when someone yells “squirrel”.
And just like Dug, we have our own “squirrels” that interfere with either the task at hand or those tasks requiring a long-term commitment and focus such as visions and Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG’s). As a matter of fact, it’s easier for “squirrels” to distract us from those far off goals because we’re often lulled into believing we can temporarily change directions and still have time catch up or get back on track. But the truth is almost every time a leader or an organization falls short in achieving a grand vision or a BHAG, there were “squirrels” along the way that distracted them from the important work. And of course, this makes sense, because if big visions and BHAG’s didn’t require extraordinary effort and single-minded focus to achieve then they wouldn’t, by definition, be visions or BHAG’s.
A good friend of mine, Jack McQueeney, reminded me of this reality recently when I asked his opinion about an overseas opportunity I’ve been offered. He simply asked me two questions “how will this trip advance SpringHill’s vision?” and “Is there anything else you could do with the 7 days that would be more effective in advancing SpringHill’s vision?”
Then Jack told me he always looks for 2 to 3 touch points between an opportunity he’s offered and his job and the ministry he serves. If he can’t clearly see 2 or 3 touch points then he’ll politely decline the opportunity. In other words Jack doesn’t allow “squirrels” to distract him from the work he has before him.
So as you can see I have squirrels in my life, but the more important question is “what are the squirrels in yours?”43.928283-85.286682
How Do You Climb a Mountain?
How do you climb a mountain? As my wife Denise and I experienced on a recent climb up a southern California mountain, you do it one step at a time.
This is true of any big goal or vision we have as individuals or as organizations. Our best chance at success is by breaking big goals down into smaller, more manageable steps, and regularly measuring ourselves against those steps.
But too often we set these “Big Hairy Audacious Goals – BHAG’s” but don’t make the effort to break them down into the steps necessary to take every year, quarter, month, week, and day to accomplish those BHAG’s. Which, if you think about it, is a bit like my wife and I sitting at the bottom of the mountain, looking up at it and envisioning being at the top, but not mapping out the trail or knowing the elevation change or the miles we’ll need to walk or the time and effort required to reach the summit.
But it’s this kind of planning that’s required to break down a BHAG into manageable steps. And it’s by these manageable steps that we’re able to measure our progress. And by measuring our daily progress we’re able to keep focused on the work before us and not become overwhelmed by the large amount of work we have to do before getting to the top of the mountain.
At SpringHill our Big Hairy Audacious Goal is to serve 260,000 campers a year by 2025 (for context, we’ll serve about 55,000 in 2013). It’s an exciting goal, but to increase the likelihood of it becoming a reality we had to break our BHAG down into year by year goals, including our 2013 goal. Then we broke down our 2013 goal by season (we have three seasons a year versus four quarters), followed by monthly goals, and finally weekly goals, or steps, we call a split.
Then every week, as a team, we review these steps or splits. If we’re on track each week, then we know, ultimately, we’re on track this week to reach our mountain top of 260,000 campers by 2025.43.928283-85.286682
Do You Know What You’re Shooting For?
“What get’s measured is what gets done.”
I live in northern Michigan where opening day of deer season is a holiday. Schools close and very little business transacts. Part of the deer hunting tradition is the annual “sighting in” of a hunter’s gun that usually happens the weekend before opening day. “Sighting in” is where hunters shoot at a target for the purpose of aligning their gun’s sights/scope. The marks shot on the target indicate how aligned the gun’s sights are and direct the hunter’s sight adjustments. Obviously “sighting in” is important to achieving the goal of shooting a trophy deer.
It’s this idea of targets, goals, and indicators that help SpringHill answer the question “How will we know we’re being successful?” Targets are what we shoot for in the long run (more than a year away) and goals are the immediate things (year or less) we’re trying to accomplish. Indicators, on the other hand, are those measurements that help us assess how we’re doing accomplishing our goals and targets. Targets and goals should align with each other and both should align with the future aspirations of an organization (its vision and BHAG).
Typically an organization has a number of targets, goals and indicators that centered on such key areas as customers, finances/stewardship, market size, people, and operations. Every organization is different so the targets, goals and indicators should be different. The key is finding the right ones that lead the organization forward and tell its people how they’re doing. Then the team’s responsibility is to faithfully and regularly measure, watch, and effectively respond to those numbers.
Targets, goals and indicators are essential for an organization’s ability to answer the question “are we being successful and heading in the right direction?” Without them, and the proper tracking of them, an organization is left to guessing at how they’re doing, which is never good when hunting for a trophy.
This is part 4 of a series of posts about the questions every organization needs to answer to achieve their vision.43.928283-85.286682
Peter Drucker on the 6 Key Questions Every Organization Needs to Answer
Jason Hoffer our New Frontiers/TST Director passed this Peter Drucker quote to me from some reading he’s been doing – Management, Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. It perfectly applies to the discussion in my previous posts about the 6 Key Questions every organization needs to answer, and specifically the answers to the last four Key Questions – “why do we exist?”, “what makes us distinct?”, “what do we want to achieve in the long-term?” and “what do we want to become?” Drucker says…
“It is not easy for the management of a successful company to ask, what is our business? Everybody in the company then thinks that the answer is obvious as not to deserve discussion. It is never popular to argue with success, never popular to rock the boat. Sooner or later even the most successful answer to the question, ‘what is our business?’ becomes obsolete. Very few definitions of the purpose and mission of a business have anything like a life expectancy of thirty, let alone fifty years. To be good for ten years is probably all one can normally expect. In asking, what is our business? Management therefore also needs to add, and what will it be”
Notice Drucker’s language of both “doing” (i.e. Mission, BHAGG & Brand) as well as “being” (Vision). Drucker understood that the answer to the last four questions will change over time if an organization and its leaders stays attuned to the world around them.
And I wholeheartedly agree with Jason’s comment about the contemporary perspective of Drucker’s thoughts – “that was written in 1974 – I can imagine if he were to write that now those years would be dramatically fewer”43.928283-85.286682
The Architecture – The Final Two Questions Every Organization Needs to Answer, Part 5
There are two final questions (click here for the 6 Key Questions) every organization needs to answer to assure long-term effectiveness.
Both questions move from the current state of an organization (the focus of the first 4 questions) to the future state. Though the answers to the first four questions provide “guard rails” for the answering the final two questions, they do not specifically define the future.
But the answers to these last two questions do define and articulate the desired future state of the organization. And because of that, the answers can and should change over time, especially as they become reality. Let’s take a look at each question and how an organization can answer them.
What do we want to achieve in 15, 20 or 25 years? Big Hairy Audacious Goal – BHAG (or Big Hairy Audacious God Goal for faith-based organizations)
The BHAG concept’s taken from Jim Collins and Jerry Porras book Built to Last. They state that BHAG’s are bold, challenging and daunting goals that stretch the organization. As goals, BHAG’s are definable, measurable and drive the organization to “think out of the box” while inspiring people to see the possibility of a different future.
What do we want to become in 5, 10, 15 years? Vision
We call this the “be” question because in articulating a desired future state – a vision, the answer is more qualitative then quantitative. It centers the organization on what it wants to become. The answer usually include words like “best”, “biggest”, “innovative”, “world-changing”, “life impacting”, etc.
The answers to both these questions drive, inspire and help assure the organization isn’t just looking at today but is aspiring to do and be more tomorrow.
In my next post I’ll provide some resources that can help your organization answer the 6 Key Questions.
To see SpringHill’s answers to the 6 Key Questions click here.43.928283-85.286682